Making Your Own Biltong ...
The making of Biltong has become something of a tradition in the farming and hunting communities of Southern Africa and there is often heated debate over which meat is best, what spices to use, etc. but an attempt to outline the basics behind Biltong preparation will be made - after that it is up to the reader to experiment.
The instructions here are for a Southern African climate i.e. hot and dry most of the year round. Where possible an attempt will be made to try and include actual temperatures, etc. to assist those trying to make it in different climates.
What Meat to Use
There is much debate on whether game meat (venison) of beef makes better biltong and both have their pros and cons. I personally prefer fatty beef biltong but the lean game biltong is certainly healthier for you. The best cuts come from the eye muscles which are situated down both sides of the backbone and is usually cut whole from the carcass. The most tender cut is the fillet which is found inside the backbone and is probably easier to come by as it is a commercial cut supplied by most butchers; retails here for about (Z$60/kg). You can also make good biltong using silverside, thick flank or topside. Here in Zimbabwe it is best to start preparing the Biltong in late autumn or winter when the weather is cold and there aren't too many flies around! (Cold here means a temperature of between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius)
Salt and pepper are what is normally used to season the meat - the amounts depend on your own particular tastes but between 100 and 200 grams of coarse salt per 10kg of meat is a good medium - although, the thinner the biltong is the less salt it requires. Also note that the biltong becomes saltier the longer it is left to dry and also, fatty meat absorbs more salt than lean meat. In warmer climates, 10 grams of bicarbonate of soda per 10 kg of meat added to that salt mixture prevents mold setting in. Brown sugar (70 grams per 10 kg) added to the salt is also a good softening agent for the meat. For extra flavor, Coriander is a good choice (but never so much that it overpowers the taste of the meat - about 10 grams is sufficient). If available, ready mixed herbs and spices, obtained from spice merchants, are also a good bet.
Firstly, select your meat as explained earlier and cut it along the grain into long strips about 2 to 5 centimeters thick. Next, pack the meat into a wooden, earthenware, or plastic container, sprinkling each layer with the salt mixture as you go along. When this is done, sprinkle the whole lot with a little vinegar and leave overnight. The next day, dip each strip in a little hot vinegar-water mixture to remove excess surface salt and hang (as per directions below) in a cool, dry place where there is good airflow.
Hanging and Drying
Selecting a good place to hang your biltong is very important as this is the critical stage in the preparation. The most commonly used method is to insert a small wire hook (e.g. an opened out paperclip) into the end of each strip of meat, the to hang the strips from a string or wire. There should be ample space between the strips (about 5 cm) to allow good airflow between all the pieces. The strips should be hung in the sun to dry for one day and then moved to a shady location where they should hang for 7 to 10 days depending on your tastes. Biltong may be hung indoors but you need to ensure a good airflow - an electric fan is good for this.
Storing the Finished Product
Biltong is at its best when the insides are soft, moist and red in color with a harder brown outer layer. Freezing is a good method for keeping biltong moist, as it tends to dry out very quickly. In order to freeze the biltong properly, wrap the strips separately in clingwrap and place inside a plastic bag or airtight plastic container. If the biltong contains no fat it can be safely frozen for up to 18 months - fatty biltong can really only be stored for 9 as the fat tends to go rancid.